[Praha] the IMF in action (fwd)

Per I. Mathisen Per.Inge.Mathisen at idi.ntnu.no
Tue Oct 10 16:40:11 CEST 2000

En artikkel fra The Observer med et humoristisk tilsnitt, men om et
alvorlig tema og en trist virkelighet. - Per

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Soren <Soren at afgj.org>
To: "'stop-wb-imf at 50years.org'" <stop-wb-imf at 50years.org>
Date: Mon, 9 Oct 2000 15:29:58 -0400

Observer (London) October 8, 2000
by Greg Palast

An internal IMF study reveals the price 'rescued' nations pay: dearer 
essentials, worse poverty and shorter lives

So call me a liar. I was standing in front of the New York Hilton 
Hotel when the limousine carrying International Monetary Fund 
director Horst Kohler zoomed by, hitting a bump. Out flew a 
confidential report, Ecuador Interim Country Assistance Strategy. You 
suspect that's not how I got it, but you can trust me that it 
contains the answer to a puzzling question.

Inside the Hilton, Professor Anthony Giddens told an earnest crowd of 
London School of Economics alumni that 'globalisation is a fact, and 
it is driven by the communications revolution'.

Wow. That was an eye-opener. The screeching green-haired freaks 
outside the hotel demonstrating against the IMF had it all wrong.

Globalisation, Giddens seems to say, is about giving every villager 
in the Andes a Nokia internet-enabled mobile phone. What puzzled me 
is why anyone would protest against this happy future.

So I thumbed through my purloined IMF Strategy for Ecuador seeking a 
chapter on connecting the country's schools to the world wide web. 
Instead, I found a secret schedule. By 1 November this year, it says, 
its government is ordered to raise the price of cooking gas by 80 per 
cent. It must eliminate 26,000 jobs and halve real wages for the 
remaining workers by 50 per cent in four steps in months specified by 
the IMF. It must begin to transfer ownership of its biggest water 
system to foreign operators by July and grant BP's Arco subsidiary 
the right to build and own an oil pipeline over the Andes.

That's for starters. In all, the IMF's 167 loan conditions look less 
like an assistance plan and more like a blueprint for a financial 
coup d'etat.

The IMF would say it has no choice. Ecuador is broke, thanks to the 
implosion of its commercial banks. But how did Ecuador, an Opec 
member with resources to spare, end up in such a pickle?

For that, we have to turn back to 1983, when the IMF forced its 
government to take over the soured private debts owed by Ecuador's 
elite to foreign banks. For this bail-out of US and local financiers, 
Ecuador borrowed $1.5 billion.

To repay this loan, the IMF dictated price hikes for electricity and 
other necessities. And when that didn't drain off enough cash, yet 
another assistance plan required the state to eliminate 120,000 jobs.

Furthermore, while trying to meet the mountain of IMF obligations, 
Ecuador foolishly 'liberalised' its tiny financial market, cutting 
local banks loose from government controls and letting private debt 
and interest rates explode.

Who pushed Ecuador into this nutty romp with free-market banking? 
Hint: the initials are IMF. It made bank liberalisation a condition 
of another berserk assistance plan. The facts of this nasty little 
history come from the IMF report marked: 'Please do not cite.' 
Pretend I didn't.

The IMF and the World Bank have lent a sticky helping hand to scores 
of nations. Take Tanzania. Today, 1.4 million people there are 
getting ready to die. They are the 8 per cent of the nation's 
population who have the Aids virus. The financial 'rescuers' found a 
brilliant neo-liberal solution: require Tanzania to charge for 
hospital visits, previously free. This cut the number of patients 
treated in the three big public hospitals in the capital, Dar es 
Salaam, by 53 per cent. The financial cures must be working.

The bodies told Tanzania to charge school fees. Now the bank 
expresses surprise that school enrolment is down from 80 per cent to 
66 per cent.

Altogether the Bank and IMF have 157 other helpful suggestions for 
Tanzania, and the Tanzanian government secretly agreed last April to 
adopt them all. It was sign or starve. No developing nation can 
borrow hard currency without IMF blessing (except China, whose output 
grows at 5 per cent a year thanks to it studiously following the 
reverse of IMF policies).

The IMF and World Bank have effectively controlled Tanzania's economy 
since 1985. Admittedly, when they took charge they found a socialist 
nation mired in poverty, disease and debt.

Their experts wasted no time in cutting trade barriers, limiting 
government subsidies and selling off state industries. This worked 
wonders. According to bank-watcher Nancy Alexander of the 
Washington-based Globalisation Challenge Initiative,in just 15 years 
Tanzania's GDP has dropped from $309 to $210 per capita, the literacy 
rate is falling and the rate of abject poverty has jumped to 51 per 
cent of the population.

Yet somehow the bank has failed to win over the hearts and minds of 
Tanzanians to its free-market gameplan. Last June, the bank reported 
in frustration: 'One legacy of socialism is that most people continue 
to believe the state has a fundamental role in promoting development 
and providing social services.'

The World Bank and the IMF were born in 1944 with simple, laudable 
mandates: between them to fund post-war reconstruction and 
development projects and lend hard currency to nations left skint by 
temporary balance of payments deficits.

But in 1980 they seemed to take on an alien form. In the early 
Eighties, Third World nations, haemorrhaging after the fivefold 
increases in oil prices and a similar jump in dollar interest 
payments, brought their begging bowls to the two bodies. But instead 
of debt relief, they received structural assistance plans listing an 
average of 114 'conditionalities' in return for capital.

The particulars varied from nation to nation, but in every case, they 
had to remove trade barriers, sell national assets to foreign 
investors, slash social spending and make labour 'flexible' (that is, 
crush unions).

Some say the vicious policy change resulted from the election that 
year of Ronald Reagan as US President, the quickening of Margaret 
Thatcher's powers and the beginning of the neo-liberal ascendency. 
(My own information is that the IMF and World Bank were taken over by 
a space alien named Larry. It's obvious that 'Larry' Summers, once 
World Bank chief economist and now US Treasury Secretary, is really a 
platoon of extra- terrestrials sent to turn much of the human race 
into a source of cheap protein. But I digress.)

So what have The Aliens accomplished with their free-market 
prescriptions? An article by Samuel Brittan in last week's Financial 
Times declared that the new world capital markets and free trade have 
'brought about an unprecedented increase in world living standards'. 
Brittan cites the huge growth in GDP per capita, life expectancy and 
literacy in the less developed world from 1950 to 1995.

Now hold on a minute. Until 1980, virtually every nation in his 
survey was either socialist or welfare statist. They were developing 
on the 'Import Substitution Model', by which locally-owned industry 
was built through government investment and high tariffs, anathema to 
the neoliberals.

In those dark ages of increasing national government control and 
ownership (1960-1980), per capita income grew by 73 per cent in Latin 
America and by 34 per cent in Africa. By comparison, since 1980, 
Latin American growth has come to a virtual halt, growing by less 
than 6 per cent over 20 years - and African incomes have declined by 
23 per cent.

Now let's count the corpses. From 1950 to 1980, socialist and statist 
welfare policies added more than a decade of life expectancy to 
virtually every nation on the planet. From 1980 to today, life under 
structural assistance has become brutish and shorter. Since 1985, the 
total number of illiterate people has risen and life expectancy is 
falling in 15 African nations. Brittan attributes this to 'bad luck, 
[not] the international economic system'. In the former Soviet 
states, where IMF and World Bank shock plans hold sway, life 
expectancy has plunged, adding 1.4 million a year to the death rate 
in Russia alone.

Admittedly, the World Bank and IMF are reforming. The dreaded 
structural assistance plans have been renamed 'poverty reduction 
strategies'. Doesn't that make you feel better?

Recently, the IMF admitted that 'in the recent decades, nearly 
one-fifth of the world population have regressed' - arguably 'one of 
the greatest economic failures of the twentieth century.' And that, 
Professor Giddens, is a fact.

More information about the Trondheim mailing list